In my last post, I talked about what 1 Corinthians 7:4 does not say. I argued that the passage does not, in any way, support sex on demand in marriage. Today, I’d like to consider what it does say. The picture of sex in marriage that these verses present is radically countercultural in our world. In these verses, both the husband and the wife are called to give to the other spouse sexually, with intentional, purposeful deliberateness. The picture is not one of stimulus-response, passion-driven, sex-drive satisfaction.

To use classical categories, sex is described as an expression of agape love, not eros love. Agape is the intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial love with which God loves us, and with which we are then called to love each other. Eros is the passion of sexual desire. Sex in marriage may obviously entail eros, but it is to be primarily led by agape.

In our culture, eros is revered, even worshiped, as the highest experience, the key to human flourishing, the foundation and requisite of any life-partner relationship, even in marriage. Our culture expects the passion of erotic attraction to be the initiating and sustaining dynamic of any such relationship—so much so that we might say that eros itself is the goal, and relationships only exist or continue inasmuch as they serve eros.

But think of how destructive this eros-led view is to a marriage: A couple plunges into marriage, sure that they have found (or have been found by!) true love. But when the daily, mundane, and unpleasant work of living with another sinful being comes to the fore, the erotic attraction to each other fades or disappears altogether. They’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling.” Sex ends. The relationship requires increasingly harder work, even as their motivation to do that hard work disappears. Of course, this happens because the foundation of the relationship was romantic eros. And the problem is not just the fact that spontaneous romantic erotic arousal fades for the married couple. Equally destructive is the fact that the capacity for arousal does not disappear—it just leaves this relationship. Eros is fickle, elusive, and spontaneous, with a spontaneity that is just as likely to attach itself to someone outside of the marriage. Or, frustrated by its elusiveness, a husband or wife can harness it to their imaginations via pornography or romance novels. Many marriages don’t survive this.

But wait. Perhaps you have heard this often. Christians usually advise that the marriage relationship be based on more than sexual attraction. But 1 Corinthians 7 says something much less common; it extends this principle to sexuality itself. In other words, you may have heard that a marriage relationship should not be led by sexual arousal. In these verses, God tells us that sex should not be led by sexual arousal, at least not primarily! The picture that the apostle Paul paints is not of two people waiting for the rush of romantic attraction to come upon them. Our culture worships moments like this. Such a synchronous alignment of erotic attraction is deemed proof you have found the “real thing.” But, in reality, this is only a firm basis for something as temporary and fleeting as a one-time hookup, nothing more. No, these verses teach us that not only marriage in the broader sense, but also the sexual expression of that marriage, is to be founded in, shaped by, motivated by, and sustained by intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial agape love.

Perhaps you can imagine some of the implications of this radical perspective on sex and marriage. I will mention a few.

If you are married:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. If husband and wife are motivated to move toward the other sexually on the basis of an intentional commitment to give to the other sacrificially, sex will not be limited to those rare moments when the erotic stars align. Isn’t it obvious that a couple applying Paul’s instruction will have sex more often? The irony is that this will result in much more eros in a marriage, not less; however, it will not be the driving force, but a fruit of agape.
  • There is hope for your marriage, despite your personal history of eros. Many married people have lengthy, personal histories of being led by eros. Not only have they learned to be slaves of spontaneous erotic attraction, but that attraction has habitually been attached to something other than their spouse, like other individuals (i.e., old flames) or pornographic images. The memory and power of these habits of eros have no respect for your marriage vows. If you continue to be led by eros, these old habits will constantly intrude and compete quite effectively against your spouse for your loyalty. But if you make even your sexuality subject to your agape love for your spouse, the two of you will build new habits of eros on a foundation that your old memories can’t touch. Having renounced their power to control you, these old, erotic masters will increasingly lose their ability to draw you away from your spouse.

If you are single:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. The world and your own flesh are trying to seduce you into patterns of slavery to erotic attraction that will leave you empty, broken, discarded, and hopeless. Now is the time to learn to receive God’s agape love and give it to others. This love is your eternal inheritance; it, not eros, is the key to human flourishing. Practice treating it as such. And if, in the future, God brings you into marriage, the eros you enjoy will depend upon the agape love in that marriage. Be wary of how pornography, the media, and peers seek to train you otherwise.

Take heart that Christ came to redeem all aspects of sexuality, including your beliefs about sexual attraction and love.

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You can also watch the video, “What About the Sexless Marriage?,” which corresponds to this blog.

Let’s suppose…the husband is truly repentant and growing, but he also feels like his wife’s coldness to him is making it more difficult. Is 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 relevant for him?

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by R. Nicholas Black and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “The Whims of Erotic Attraction and 1 Corinthians 7,” which corresponds to this video.

Pain is deafening. Whether physical or emotional, pain not only has the ability to hurt deeply but also to smother our faith and hope in Christ. Pain of betrayal. Rejection. Broken relationships. Loss. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Ongoing sexual struggles. Deferred hopes. Or simply the consequences of living in a broken world with our sinful choices. The sad reality is that, regardless of what triggers our pain, the aftermath can be just as disorienting.

Many Christians have been taught that prayer is a wise response to painful life circumstances. However, one of the things I hear the most from women amidst their suffering and heartache is that they struggle to know what to pray. In the throes of emotional turmoil, many people find that words evade them, or they don’t think they are allowed to say what they truly feel to a holy God. Sexual strugglers can mistakenly believe that their temptations and sins cannot be voiced at the throne of grace. Shame keeps them silent and stuck in an internal dialogue of unbelief: “Can God really handle my truth?!”

God is holy and deserves our reverence, but he also desires to be in relationship with us. For relationship to thrive, there must be communication. But what do you do when the pain of life cuts so deep that you can’t think, let alone find the vocabulary to pray?

Well, you can pray God’s Word. Let his Word come up with what to say for you. Scripture shows us examples of God’s people crying out gut-raw, honest prayers in the midst of their pain and suffering. The Psalms are a great example of this appropriate honesty. When life hurts most, we have a guide!

Here are some ways you can pray when pain is disorienting.

When you feel weak and weary, pray…
“Lord, I am so tired; I don’t feel like I can do this. Your Word says you give power to the weak, and you increase their strength when they have none. Please give me strength to get through this day” (Isaiah 40:29).

When you feel ashamed, pray…
“Father, I am so ashamed; I just keep failing. Please remove my shame because, in Christ, I am your beloved one. Thank you that as I look to you, my face is never covered with shame, regardless of what my emotions tell me” (Psalm 34:5).

When you feel alone and afraid, pray…
“Father, I feel all alone. I’m so scared that this pain is never going to go away. Your Word says not to fear because you are with me, but it is so hard to believe that you are near. Please help me believe. Strengthen me, help me, and uphold me with your righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

When you feel grief, pray…
“Father, my hopes and dreams are caving in. As Proverbs 13:12 says, a deferred hope makes the heart sick, and that’s all I feel right now. Thank you that a day is coming when you will wipe away every tear from my eyes; when there will be no more death, sorrow, or crying; when there will be no more pain as the former things pass away” (Revelation 21:4).

When you doubt God, pray…
“Lord, I just don’t understand! The pain of this ongoing struggle is making me question so many things. Please help me trust in you and not lean on my own understanding. I acknowledge you as God. Help me believe that you will make straight my path” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

When you feel tempted, pray…
“Father, help! I don’t feel like I can say no to this. I know this temptation that is trying to overtake me is common to mankind, and your Word says you are faithful⁠—you will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. This feels like too much to bear, so help me see the way out that you provide for me to endure this” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When you need hope, pray…
“Lord, I feel hopeless. But thank you that I have more to hope in than my present circumstances. Thank you that, according to your great mercy, you have caused me to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for me. By your power, I am guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

Are you struggling to know what to pray? Be honest with God about how you feel. When we are crushed in spirit, God doesn’t expect us to package all of our emotions into neat, little gift boxes. He doesn’t say, “Child, don’t speak until you have something eloquent to say.”

Instead, he meets us in our honesty with mercy and compassion. He speaks tenderly to us with peace, love, and forgiveness (Hosea 2:14). He does what only he can do by taking the pain meant to destroy us and using it to make us more like Jesus, the person who is most able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).

The next time that life hurts so bad you can’t think of words to pray, or when circumstances make despair seem like the only feasible option, let God’s Word be your guide. Our loving Father already knows exactly what you’re feeling, so accept his invitation to tell him about it.

You can also watch the video, “Praying with Someone in Pain,” which corresponds to this blog.

In this post, you’ll hear from women and men whom our staff know personally. These brothers and sisters in Christ are seeking to stand firm in obedience during the unusual circumstances forced upon them through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are battling well by fleeing sexual and relational temptations through the daily graces that God provides to all believers. As you read their words, perhaps you’ll be encouraged afresh to flee your personal temptations through the mercies that are yours in the Lord.

“Prayer is being used of God to help me focus on Christ and the hope that I have in him! This slower, quieter, at-home pace of life has meant fewer distractions from prayer, as well as unique need for prayer, and I rejoice to be nearer to him.”

“Instead of seeing my temptations—being afraid and anxious, or finding comfort and security in sexual sin—exclusively as invitations to evil, I have begun using them as signposts to remind me to run to Christ and keep my focus on him. It is easy to forget God when going through the normal rhythms of daily life, but, when life gets tough, the suffering and temptation to sin reminds me of the truth that I need God all the time!”

“During my prayer time, I have been using the Psalms as a guide to help me verbalize the troubles of my heart and to remind me of who my God is. Being transparent with God about how I feel and taking time to think about his character has helped to stabilize my heart during these uncertain times!”

“What’s helped me during this time has been cutting off sources that fuel my temptation: TV, movies, music, social media. I’ve been trying to starve my temptations as much as possible. Also, I’ve been consistent in my time with God, pouring my heart out in worship.”

“Completing my workbook assignments in Sexual Sanity for Women (SSFW) has kept me disciplined and reminds me that I always need to be on guard from the enemy’s schemes. Isolation can lead to destructive behaviors that leave scars on my soul, and SSFW reminds me that I must lean on him constantly and never let go!”

“During this time of forced isolation, it’s important for me to stay in contact with my accountability partners. I have to make a conscious effort to call, text, or video chat with them to bring temptations into the light, because that is where they lose their power.”

“As often as possible, I download Christian teaching from my favorite conference speakers, online sermons, or other edifying podcasts and listen to them while working or on a break. This has kept my mind engaged on the Lord and kingdom-living, rather than allowing my mind to wander into lustful thought patterns and fruitless habits. This has an added benefit of providing edifying material to discuss with my wife and others.”

These dear brothers and sisters are living out practical theology while they draw near to Christ, our true “way of escape,” as Paul beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14. My former colleague, David White, explained the beauty of looking to Christ when the battle rages:

“Jesus is the way of escape because he knows your pain specifically! ‘For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted’ (Hebrews 2:18). How was he tempted? Lest you think his experience was different, Hebrews tells us, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). Listen to that hope! He has suffered the same temptations you experience. Therefore, right in the midst of your battle with temptation, his help is real and substantial. Knowing that Jesus suffered like you, but did so victoriously, is a deep source of strength and comfort. He alone knows exactly what you need, because he alone knows exactly what it takes, having endured the same temptations, but without ever failing.”

Our direct ministry staff team is honored to jump into the trenches with people day after day, pointing them to our Lord Jesus, our ever-present help in every need and every period of history.

If you’ve been helped and encouraged by our ministry, would you consider giving to Harvest USA today? Even during COVID-19, we remain dependent on God’s sustaining grace and the generous partnership of his people. Thank you for standing with us as we joyfully engage the battle for the advancement of God’s kingdom!

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You can also watch the video, Our Ever-Present Help in Sexual Temptation, which corresponds to this blog.

A few weeks ago, I read an article about the recently released movie, Rocketman, which chronicles the life of openly gay and quite flamboyant British rock star, Elton John. The article exposed that the Russian government had removed all of the homosexual love scenes from the movie since Russian law interprets these as “lewd acts” and considers them lawbreaking.

Although I’m not sure that outlawing sin is the best way for believers to suppress our own sinful desires, let alone mandate that non-believers do the same, I was kind of thankful for this declaration since I believe that the Bible defines homosexual sex as sin. To be clear, however, the Holy Spirit is the one who confronts our sin and moves us to repent of it. He also moves us to believe in the power of the atonement, received by the Lord Jesus on behalf of our sin, and fights in and through us against sin that remains both in us and around us.

But, nonetheless, my response got me wondering and made me think: why am I so on-board with the Russians here? I guess a better question is: why am I not up in arms about other sins that are so prevalent in our culture?

Blind to Sin Around Us

To be clear, I was probably never going to see Rocketman, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had a visceral and agreeable response to the Russian government’s indictment on the movie. I mean, when’s the last time I agreed with the Russian government about anything?

What bothered me even more was that sexual sin that is so prevalent in our culture doesn’t seem to unnerve me nearly as much. Why not? Maybe because I’m blind. Maybe because sexual sin is so pervasive in our society that I simply don’t notice it anymore.

The movies we love, the shows we watch, the songs we sing: so much of what we adore in pop culture is chock full of sexual sin and innuendos that slip under the radar unnoticed. Maybe we do notice, but we just look away or justify our complicity providing an excuse that we can be in the world as long as we’re not of it.

There was a similar struggle in Old Testament Israel when God’s people performed idolatrous rituals and sacrifices in the “high places” that they learned from surrounding nations. The people had been influenced by the culture around them. Kevin DeYoung writes, “The high places were so entrenched in the culture, they seemed so normal, that even the good kings did not think to remove them. . . Sexual immorality is one of our high places. I’m afraid we–and there is an “I” in that “we”–don’t have the eyes to see how much the world has squeezed us into its mold.” (Kevin DeYoung, Hole in Our Holiness, page 108.)

Striving Toward Purity

For all of us, married or single, attacks upon our sexual purity are strengthening and increasing. One way we strive toward purity is by running from impurity (1 Corinthians 6:18, 10:13, Genesis 39:13). Remember Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? Joseph ran away from temptation so fast that he left his garment behind. Do we run from sexual sin?

So often I think we’re trying so hard to relate to the world that we’ve lost our edge. We’ve lost our desire for holiness. To be honest, I’m often shocked at what we consider okay to watch on a screen. The sexual sin we tend to accept, maybe because it’s heterosexual sin, is no less dangerous and should bother us just as much.

Let’s be honest. We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

After reading that article, I asked myself: do I have the same visceral response that opposes the sex scenes in TitanicTop GunMy Big Fat Greek WeddingA Star is Born? Each and every Fast and Furious movie? Was I as repulsed as I should have been or did I even notice the sexual scenes in those movies that many of us embrace?

I know that we can’t come out of the woodwork to oppose all of the works of the flesh because if we did, that’s all we’d ever do. But is it possible that the Spirit who lives in us isn’t stirred regularly regarding sexual sin because we have quenched him in this area (1 Thessalonians 5)? Contrary to popular belief, we are supposed to judge sin. We are called to obey the Spirit as we use Scripture and wisdom to judge sin in us and in others, and Jesus tells us exactly how to do it. Simply put, we are instructed that we can’t be hypocrites when we judge (Matthew 7:1-5).

Homosexuality is sin. But so is coarse joking, adultery, sensuality, pornography, masturbation, and promiscuity. I’m not suggesting that we run for the hills and create a safe Christian commune so that we can avoid our culture entirely. However, I am praying that we (and I am part of the “we”) consider judging all sins, not just the sins we love to hate, before we decide to finally throw a stone. And maybe then we can become a small part of redeeming our over-sexualized culture and strive toward the holiness that God desires.

Editor’s note: This article was first published by enCourage in 2019.

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You can also watch the video, Transformed Hates and Loves, which corresponds to this blog.

As our focus increasingly centers on the Lord, the more our desires become conformed to what he loves and hates. The idea here isn’t to focus on a list of sins, but rather to fix our affections on Christ, who reorders our desires by opening our eyes and hearts towards what is good and holy.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, The Sins We Love to Hate, which corresponds to this video.

Derrick and Carli are three months out from their wedding. Invites have been sent, RSVPs have come in, the honeymoon has been booked. When they sat down last week for their final premarital counseling session, they both had the wedding jitters. However, a painful and unexpected truth came out in that hour of counseling—a secret Derrick had kept not only from their premarital counselor but from Carli as well. He had been struggling with pornography off and on for the last twelve years, since he was fifteen. He had tried everything he knew to overcome it, but he was always on his own, never daring to share this with anyone. Now that he was in seminary to become a pastor, the terror of being found out had kept him even more committed to hiding. However, as he explained, he loved Carli and wanted her to know about it before their wedding so that she would be able to help him.

Carli was shocked . . . and heartbroken. He’s just telling me about this now?

Now what do they do? Should they move ahead with the wedding and hope for the best? Do they postpone it? Do they call it off?

Michael and Shaina have been dating for eight months and are now beginning to talk about marriage. Sure, they have a few fears, but excitement is growing as they both sense God is doing an amazing thing in their relationship.

However, there are significant secrets hidden in each of their hearts. Each has engaged in pornography and masturbation, though it’s Shaina who is more actively pursuing porn online. She is most drawn to lesbian stories in the sites she visits.

Shaina has been encouraged that, since her relationship with Michael became serious, her struggle with lust seems less intense, even if she’s still giving into temptation. She’s thought to herself, “God must be preparing me to marry him. Maybe when I’m married to him, the temptations toward women will go away all together?”

Michael would be shocked to know that Shaina struggles with porn. It’s completely off his radar that women would be tempted in that way. He’s mentioned several times that men really “wrestle with lust . . . it’s a guy thing.” She wants to be confident in his love for her, but his comments have tempted her to feel dirty and ashamed because she’s looked at porn for years—lesbian porn at that—and isn’t a guy.

Should she be honest with him, or just with her two closest female friends who can keep her accountable? Wouldn’t it be more hurtful for him to know? After all, her private fantasy life isn’t really hurting anything, is it?

Maybe you connect with one of these stories. You’re engaged to someone you truly love and yet you wrestle with knowing exactly what you should share with your fiancé(e) about your past sexual experiences and your present temptations and struggles.

Perhaps you’re not in a relationship at all right now, but you’d like to be married in the future. You’re anxious about the how, the what, the when, and the how much of sharing the parts of your story that include sexual struggle and sin.

These are important things to seriously and prayerfully consider before you get engaged, and even more crucial to consider before you get married.

But what happens when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Wise premarital counseling addresses important issues of family history, depth of faith in Jesus, finances, children, sex, roles of each spouse, desires for lifestyle (standard of living, social life, ministry involvement), etc. However, people often marry having avoided, or barely discussed, a critical component of their story: sexual history.

Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, or with oneself, sometimes through technology-based communication and/or sexual fantasy. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what his or her struggle has looked like in terms of length of time, frequency of giving way to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness or resistance to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.

There are any number of reasons dating people (and premarital counselors) avoid discussing sexual history:

  1. Fear. It’s scary and feels too vulnerable. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend reject me? Is my past or present struggle too much for him or her to handle?
  1. Some think, “Let the past be the past.” Sharing this will be more damaging than helpful. Leave it alone and trust God to work things out.
  1. Private sin struggles. Pornography, masturbation, sexual hookups, mental fantasy, etc. may seem to lose some of their tempting power in the euphoria of a new dating relationship. It’s easy to think that perhaps your relationship with this person has solved the problem, as Shaina believed.
  1. Shame. Derrick had kept his porn struggle hidden from everyone until that fateful moment in the counselor’s office. Shame is a persuasive yet destructive force that leads many to keep secret sin in the dark.
  1. Feeling intimidated. Therefore, they avoid them all together. Pastors, mentors, and counselors allow personal fears and feelings of insecurity to inhibit the necessary probing into these sensitive issues.

For couples to grow into an honest, truly knowing-each-other level of intimacy, it takes time, risk, and vulnerability. This needs to begin in the dating relationship, as both man and woman wisely open up their true selves, one to the other. Based on that true knowledge of each other, including sexual history and present struggles, each can discern if this is a relationship they want to commit to for life. For this to happen wisely and thoroughly, couples need other trusted people to help them navigate these crucial and often scary conversations—before they get engaged.

Why It’s Wise to Discuss Sexual History Before You Get Engaged

Couples are wise to not wait until engagement and “formal” premarital counseling to discuss sexual history. Pre-engagement is the time for the messiness to be shared and known—not in traditional premarital counseling, which is almost always pursued post-engagement. Why?

Engagement communicates, “I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. I delight in you, respect you, know you, and will support you to grow in Christ through your joys, trials, temptations, and struggles.” Therefore, before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you and stand by your side, ministering to you as I also receive your love and ministry to me.”

Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life.”

Consider another life-impacting decision that requires thorough knowledge and taking the time to gain detailed information before taking action: buying a house. Most people would never purchase a home before the costly, time-consuming process of completing a home inspection. Buyers want to know everything possible about a house before making one of the most significant purchases of their life. A thorough home inspection, conducted by an experienced and trustworthy person, will produce a report that addresses the true condition of that house, from the roof to the foundation. A well-done home inspection brings every problem—both present and potential—into the light. Relationships are much more complex than a physical structure—and thus the importance of knowing potential challenges is that much more crucial!

If it’s commonly accepted as wise to inspect a house, how much more so for couples to do the hard work of knowing, and being known by, each other as thoroughly as possible before committing to marriage? A man and woman need to know each other’s external and internal issues, both past and present, so that they can make a wise decision regarding a lifetime investment into a marriage. Sexual history is certainly one such issue.

Wisdom would lead this couple to invest the time, money, and effort to “go deep” in knowing this house to the best of their ability before purchasing it. Even though they’ve seen the house with their own eyes and have walked on the floors together, there’s more to learn. To avoid the cost and process of a professional home inspection, or to ignore the long-term implications found during the dangerous discoveries of one, would be foolish at best and catastrophic at worst.

Committing yourself to marry a person is so much weightier than buying a house! Taking the time, effort, and vulnerability to truly know a potential spouse isn’t an “inspection”—it’s a way to show humble love to one another and build trust. Rest assured, God delights in honesty and is committed to helping his children walk in the light before him and each other.

Jesus Strengthens and Comforts You in the Process of Sharing Your Sexual History

Sharing your sexual history can be a scary thing to consider. The Lord says that honesty is a good and necessary part of being joined with other Christians (see Ephesians 4:25). If honesty is crucial for our relationships in the church, how much more important is it for those who are preparing to join in the most intimate of unions? Here are some encouraging truths to consider as you prepare to be completely honest with a potential future spouse.

You’re not alone. One of the beautiful facets of a Christ-centered relationship is that it’s not just a twosome. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).

God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 contains a sweet promise and a sober warning as well: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” A lack of joy and freedom in Christ, versus God’s mercy and grace—which reality do you want to live in? Which of these qualities do you want to be embedded in the foundation of your relationship? Jesus already knows us fully and loves us completely. This truth compels us to confess and turn from sin, which is the invitation given to us in the gospel! Humility before God in acknowledging your need of his gracious love will embolden you to be honest with the person with whom you are contemplating marriage.

God enables us to love rather than be self-protective. Jesus loves us, and also sends us to be ambassadors of his love to people around us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). This includes your girlfriend or boyfriend. Galatians 5:13 commands us that in Christ, we are to no longer live for ourselves, but rather to serve others. A decision to be honest about your past and present sexual struggles may not seem like a way to love and serve someone, but it truly is. You are honestly acknowledging and offering a component of your life story to this person. You are inviting them to know and trust you. Hiding, spinning the facts, and telling half-truths are all basically the same thing: deceitful self-protection. For a future marriage to be healthy, it must be built on transparency and solid trust, which itself begins to grow in an honest dating relationship.

God forgives our sin and redeems our past. As God forgives you, you and your future spouse will have many opportunities to offer and ask for forgiveness, participating in Christ’s work of redemption in each other’s lives (see Colossians 3:12–17). Your relationship becomes a testament to the power of the gospel to make all things new, and to restore years of sinful living. In fact, one of the beautiful ways that God uses the unique “one-flesh” union between husbands and wives is to give them a 24/7/365 experience of being known, unashamed, and loved. This images God’s steadfast love for his people who sin, who are weak, and who have painful and stigmatizing scars.

God provides helpers. Another comfort of Christ, though it may feel scary at first, is that you have brothers and sisters to walk with you. Jesus doesn’t expect couples to navigate their relationship alone. In the euphoria of a new relationship, some couples can pull away from other key relationships, which will hurt them in the long run. Such isolated future spouses evolve into an island of two—and when the storms hit, they have only each other to rely on. Proverbs 11:14 encourages humility, which reaches out to others for help, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Jesus is our eternal companion and spouse. Finally, Jesus is with you now and forever, and will never abandon you. Your relationship may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past. It’s better to know now, before making lifelong marriage vows, if this person can accept and be committed to the real you.


Editor’s Note:
This article is adapted from Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


To learn more about this topic, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History.

Regardless of our marital status, all of us are sexual beings. The Bible has more to say about single sexuality than “Just say no!” Despite its challenges, the Bible suggests singleness is a “gift” for some (see 1 Corinthians 7:7–9). While many singles struggle without a spouse and long for marriage, others may not resonate with the feelings of loneliness discussed below. Many single Christians live joyful, content, and especially fruitful lives for the kingdom, specifically because of their unmarried state. I know the challenge of being an older single. After twelve years of marriage, I suddenly lost my first wife to complications from breast cancer. I was thirty-nine years old (with twin eight-year-old girls). After her death, I was single for almost three years. Though my personal experience with singleness is limited, I write with a keen awareness of the difficulties singles face. Every person’s story is different, but I hope that what follows is helpful to single readers as they seek to faithfully embrace their sexuality.

The Bible has more to say about single sexuality than “Just say no!”

Single and Waiting (on the Lord)

The creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 suggests that waiting on the Lord was built into the world from the beginning. After Adam’s creation, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18), then proceeds to create the animal kingdom ahead of Eve. But we see the eventual blessing as Adam meets Eve and erupts in poetic exultation. However, waiting is more pronounced and painful after Genesis 3. There is a reason why there are multiple complaints of “How long, oh Lord?” in the Psalms. Now life is filled with disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. As Proverbs 13:12 expresses, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Many of us are living with the deep heartache of hope deferred.

If this is your experience, I want to share a perspective on waiting. It is an active place. I used to think waiting meant trying to be patient, like waiting for the bus with nothing to do. Not so. Waiting on the Lord is active. In fact, it is a place of warfare. Years ago, reading through the Psalms, I was struck by the conclusion of Psalm 27, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (v. 14). Do you hear what David is saying? Waiting on the Lord is a terrifying place to be.

It is not for the faint of heart, but requires incredible, Spirit-given strength. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is moving forward despite your terror. This is true for any waiting God calls us to, but especially the waiting that stretches on for years and decades. If you are wrestling with your singleness, I encourage you to see this as a battle that takes courage, and a place where God wants to meet you.

In the Old Testament, marriage is assumed to be the normative mode of life, with childbearing as a critical component. This is partly due to the creation mandate “to be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), as well as the building anticipation that a deliverer would come from Abraham’s seed, a son of David, to free Israel from her oppressors. But the focus on physical generation begins to shift as Isaiah prophesies about this coming deliverer.

Isaiah 53 is one of the most wondrous passages pointing to Jesus’s sacrificial death. Written hundreds of years before his earthly life, it describes his crucifixion and even the manner of his burial. After describing Jesus’s death and the reality that he was “cut off” from his generation and the land of the living (v. 8), the passage turns and makes a shocking pronouncement: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (v. 10). There is an anticipation of life after death—resurrection!—and the production of offspring. Although Jesus lived his perfect human life as a single man and was literally childless, Scripture regards Jesus’s single life as having produced a family in the community of his followers. This was a striking claim in the ancient world, in which married life and the production of physical children was the assumed norm.

Isaiah went on to describe the drastic change that is coming with the advent of the Messiah:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3–5, ESV)

This was an incredible statement! The Old Testament law declared that no one with damaged or removed genitalia could even enter God’s assembly (Deuteronomy 23:1). Such people were second-class citizens, at least as far as worship in the temple was concerned. In this context, Isaiah’s pronouncement was a strong affirmation that God saw those who, through their physical and relational status, were excluded from a central aspect of Israel’s religious life. Isaiah envisioned a new day when, in a transformation of the creation mandate, physical generation is no longer the name of the game. Laying out this history highlights the extraordinary redirection that results from Jesus establishing the kingdom of God. Isaiah thus offers singles something “better than sons and daughters”—an everlasting legacy based solely on the work of God through his people who bring about a spiritual generation that carries into the world to come.

Approaching the New Testament, this change is even more pronounced. When questioned about the practice of divorce, Jesus brought his listeners back to God’s original intent at creation. But he concluded his teaching about the permanence of marriage with a profound declaration: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11–12, ESV).

Instead of insisting on the importance of marriage and the production of children to fulfill the creation mandate, Jesus proclaimed some people will choose singleness for the sake of God’s kingdom. This is the first time in the Bible that singleness is depicted as a desirable and even exalted state! As we’ll see below, this is because of the heightened focus on the kingdom that corresponds with the coming of Christ.

Paul took Jesus’s exhortation further, encouraging the believers at Corinth to seriously consider lifelong singleness because spouses created divided loyalties, wanting to serve the kingdom but also wanting to bless their spouses (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, 25–40). The call to serve in Jesus’s kingdom reorients the focus and is prioritized above the creational calling to “be fruitful and multiply”. To this end, he encouraged lifelong celibacy, although he freely acknowledged that it is not sinful to marry. (Also see Paul’s clear refutation in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 of those who forbid marriage.)

I suspect this 1 Corinthians 7 passage is rarely preached in American churches. The suburban church typically portrays marriage and family as the normative ideal. The goal of a singles ministry is to get everyone paired off and participating in the rest of the life of the church: coming to potlucks with casseroles (instead of a bag of Doritos), producing offspring to populate the children’s ministry, and so on. For many churches, children are still their best church-growth strategy. Although churches acknowledge that in Christ things are different than the Old Testament, they still operate as though what matters most is getting married and having children. I preached at a church in Philadelphia and met a single guy in his thirties. As we chatted, he shared about his move to the city. Even though he continued to work in the distant suburbs, he opted for a long commute, changing churches and moving into the city because in that context he is not the bizarre anomaly he’d been in his former, suburban church. There has been little affirmation—at least in many American suburban churches—of the New Testament’s high calling of singleness.

Working through the Pain

I realize for many unmarried Christians this vision may not offer much comfort. I once preached on Malachi 2:10–16. In this section, the ancient tribe of Judah is rebuked for divorcing their wives from among their own people in order to marry foreign women who worship idols. Malachi raged, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (v. 15, emphasis added). As I discussed this passage, I shared some of this vision of singleness—that singles have opportunities to nurture spiritually-generated “offspring.” Some single folks in the church were encouraged by this, but others felt it wasn’t enough. Many singles—and not only women—want actual physical offspring. They want to be parents and hold their own children. What can we say to such a widespread and understandable human desire? With such unique disappointments in the lives of many single people, along with God’s special design of marriage at the creation, we may be forced to conclude that singleness, with its challenges, is one aspect of the brokenness of the world due to the Fall. If this is an accurate assessment, it means singleness may always come with an ache on some level. For some it is a “gift,” and presumably, they have “self-control” and do not “burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7, 9). But the fact is that many face singleness for a host of reasons while not experiencing a sense of having been designed for it.

If God is truly God, there is no getting around that he is behind everything in existence. His sovereignty is behind your singleness. If you’re not happy about it and you’re not talking to him, you need to start. Because, I guarantee you this—whether you are speaking directly about this issue or not, it affects your relationship with him. Perhaps you are ignoring him in your pain, shutting him out (sadly, this is one of my personal tactics). And, of course, if you’re shutting him out, you’re turning somewhere else to medicate your pain. Maybe you’re losing yourself by searching Christian Mingle, Netflix binging, or trying to assuage your desire with porn or romance novels. Or perhaps it’s alcohol, work, exercise, or food. Or a combination—eating ice cream doused in chocolate liqueur, while doing work on your laptop, sitting in front of Netflix on your smart TV, while occasionally swiping through potential dates on your tablet . . . twenty-first-century idolatry can certainly multitask.

Embracing Promises Amid Pain

While the truth of God’s sovereignty sometimes sounds cold and distant, I urge you to see it in light of his amazingly particular love for you. David, considering God’s close attention to the details of his life, declared, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). He went on to describe God’s thoughts toward him as innumerable as the grains of sand. God’s thoughts toward you are vast and particular and fine-tuned to your unique life. We must think of his sovereignty over the details of our lives in the context of this particular love.

Consider the amazing declaration of Isaiah: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. . .  everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’” (Isaiah 43:1, 4, 7,). Not only did God create and form you to be a unique image bearer, but he calls you by name as his very own. Because you are incredibly precious and loved, his eyes are on you and he wants to honor you. The ultimate Bridegroom does not leave you alone; he gives you his name. And, finally, did you catch why he created you? For his glory! Alongside these incredible statements, the New Testament teaches that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, emphasis added). Do you hear the bridegroom language? He wants to possess you as his very own, and that’s why Jesus came—to win his bride.

If you are single, I long for you to hear these words as deeply true, rather than spiritual platitudes. Jesus wants to meet you in your pain, disappointment, and unsatisfied desires, and give you comfort—this is a profound spiritual reality. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18). He knows our deep need for him, and he longs to be intimately united to us.

Despite its challenges, I want to encourage you that singleness has a place of honor in the kingdom of God.

Despite its challenges, I want to encourage you that singleness has a place of honor in the kingdom of God. According to the Bible, you are in a position to do far more for the kingdom than those who are married. But there is something else incredibly important: your life, lived well, is a revolutionary challenge to the principalities and powers of this dark world as your obedience educates the spiritual forces of the manifold wisdom of God (see Ephesians 3:10; 6:12). Our culture is seduced by sexuality and daily sells us the lie that a life without sex is not worth living. Your commitment to live chastely as a single Christian proclaims to a watching world that there is another King, whose own willingness to embrace suffering disarmed the lies of the enemy (see Colossians 2:15). You testify to the truth that sex is not necessary to have a rich, powerful life. It is an ongoing challenge to grow in learning that God’s “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3), but far from something to be pitied, your life is a countercultural battle cry that the world (and the church!) needs to see!

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

Ten, twenty, thirty years of consistent patterns of giving into sin are hard to overcome.  Decades of sinful responses to life will produce ingrained ways of thinking and acting that are not easily changed.

At Harvest USA, I find that men who struggle the most to find consistent victory over sin are not those who have suffered significant losses as a consequence of severe sin. Instead, the men who struggle the most to gain traction in their repentance are those who consistently make small compromises with sin, which leads to minor consequences in life.

They don’t lose their jobs; they don’t lose their families. But what they are in danger of losing is hope!

When someone starts to take repentance and accountability seriously, it’s initially a very encouraging endeavor. They feel a high degree of acceptance among others who struggle in similar ways. They experience a clean conscience from confessing sin to others. They feel hope that they are not alone in their struggles, and have real avenues of support and encouragement. All of this momentum gives many people a record-breaking initial season of freedom from sinful behaviors. Victory appears to be on the horizon!

But then they fall back into old patterns. After two months of a clean record, they cross that line and indulge in pornography again, or hook up with someone again. At this point, most people are tempted to question everything that they’ve been doing so far. Was it all a sham?  Have they really made any progress if they are back at this place again? To make matters worse, that initial act of sin leads to more acting out. This is when they feel like they are now in a worse place than when they began this journey.

It is not uncommon to put forth unprecedented degrees of effort and resolve into battling sexual sin and still experience regular failure in this area. If this description matches your experience or the experience of someone you are helping, how are we to interpret and understand what God is doing?

First of all, I want to dispel two opposite yet companion false expectations of repentance.  These are two lies to guard your heart against:

  1. The first lie: No matter what you do, you are doomed to eventually act out again, it’s only a matter of time.
  2. The second lie: All you need is the golden key of a specific insight, technique, or experience to be completely free from this sin.

Both of these lies give false expectations for what repentance looks like. The first lie I confront quickly. I boldly tell new groups of men at Harvest USA, that in Christ, nothing is forcing them to go home that night and act out in their well-worn behaviors. Sin is no longer their master; they’ve died to sin when Christ died to sin on the cross. It is a lie from Satan to believe that you are always doomed to eventually go back to your enslaving patterns of sin. God always provides a way of escape.

Yet the opposite lie is also very tempting and prevalent. Those enslaved to addiction want complete freedom, and they want it as quickly as possible. It’s tempting to believe that this will be an easy fix when there is often powerful momentum in the beginning stages of truly fighting sin. But this expectation of a quick, simple fix, only to be discovered by some insight or a new technique, both misunderstands the power of indwelling sin and also the scope of transformation that God is truly after.

I find it common for men to flip-flop between these two false expectations. One week, they are in the pit of despair that this sin will always enslave them; another week, they feel invincible, believing they’ve crossed a threshold where they’ll never be severely tempted again. But what if God is after more in your repentance than a clean track record?

What if God is after more in your repentance than a clean track record?

It is certainly a good thing to want complete freedom from destructive behaviors. But it is not good if that is the only thing you care about in your repentance.

God is doing so much more in you than merely stopping behaviors. He’s doing a comprehensive renovation of your heart. And for many people, that transformative process involves a much longer season of prolonged failure than they initially expected.

While there are many things God may be doing in allowing people to experience slow growth, I believe there is one fundamental lesson he wants everyone to learn in their repentance.

Humility.

If God gave us immediate victory over sin, so many of us would be left with immeasurable amounts of deadly pride. We would look at others with judgmental hearts and have little room for patience or compassion as they continued to struggle and fail.

C.S. Lewis captures this deadly exchange when he describes Satan’s delight over prideful law-keeping. He writes, “He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your [blister] cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. (p. 125).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It’s important that we qualify what humility looks like in the battle against sin. Despair is a form of pride; you are looking to yourself as the answer to your problems, and when you can’t find the strength from within, your pride keeps you from looking to God.

Humility, on the other hand, leads to genuine hope. Humility accurately assesses the degree of helplessness we experience in our own strength to kill sin. The humble person accepts that reality and does not shake their fist at God for allowing them to experience weakness.

Humility leads to genuine hope. Humility accurately assesses the degree of helplessness we experience in our own strength to kill sin.

Instead, the humble person comes to God in trust and faith, continuing to believe that God is good, God is strong, God is mighty to save.  The humble person acknowledges God’s goodness in calling them into a dependent relationship with him. That it is eternally better to be weak and experience God’s strength than to be strong in yourself and be separated from God for all of eternity.

God’s highest goal in your battle against sexual sin is growing your dependence, trust, and reliance upon him in ever-increasing intimacy and fellowship. People entrenched in sexual sin are not marked by this kind of relationship with God. This kind of relationship is not quickly grown. And thus your slow progress in fighting sexual sin is directly connected to the progress of your humble reliance upon God.

The more you give in to the temptation to despair over your lack of progress, the harder it is to find hope in a humble relationship with God.

If you are struggling today to make progress in your battle against sexual sin, focus your attention on cultivating a humble relationship of trust and reliance upon God. Fight to hope not in yourself, but in God. Fight against laziness and presumption that you can go a single day without a vital connection with him. Fight to believe that this depth of relationship with God is what you’re ultimately fighting for, and it is what God has promised to accomplish in your life.


Learn more by watching Mark Sanders’ accompanying video: Why Isn’t God Answering My Prayers for Deliverance?

God’s pruning isn’t an indication that he is rejecting or abandoning us. Instead, his pruning indicates that he is near. And in his nearness, he is working to sanctify us. In this video, Ellen Dykas reminds us that God’s pruning is always purposeful.

To learn more, read Shalee Lehning’s accompanying blog, The Pain of Refining Squeezes.


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